As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (Rom. 9:13)
Jesus tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him may never perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Peter tells us that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). And Paul tells us that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). It sounds to me like God loves everyone. However, to be clear, He hates all evil deeds and actions of people. In other words, God always loves the person (because He wants him or her to be saved and not destroyed) but hates the sin that person commits. God does not delight in the death of anyone: “For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God (Ezek. 18:32).
So then, what about the passage about God “hating” Esau? We know that Esau despised his birthright and had no regard for God while his brother Jacob responded to God’s voice and desired to follow Him. Paul tells us that before Esau and Jacob were born that God chose Jacob and rejected Esau.
And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), 12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (Rom. 9:10-13)
Some feel bad for Esau and say “that isn’t fair,” as if Paul is somehow saying that God predetermined one for evil and one for good and they had no free choice in the matter. But the context of that passage is concerning Israel and the Gentiles and God’s willingness to save anyone who comes to Him by faith in Jesus Christ. The very lesson there is that God calls us based on our faith and obedience to the gospel and not based on our lineage or the works of the law. Here is how the chapter ends:
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (Rom. 9:33).
Like Esau, everyone has the choice to stumble over the truth and reject God or like Jacob, to choose to put their faith in God and His promises. Let’s understand that God is love and as such He desires to demonstrate His love and kindness to everyone. He did not desire that Esau would be godless and reject Him, but since God has perfect foreknowledge of the future, He knew the choices that both Jacob and Esau would make. He knew that Esau would choose to reject Him and that Jacob would choose to accept and follow Him. So, since Esau chose by free will to reject God, God then rejected Esau. If we deny him, he also will deny us (2 Tim. 2:12). But if Esau would have repented and chosen to follow God, he would have then been accepted by God. “Return to Me,” declares the LORD of hosts, “that I may return to you” (Zech. 1:3). So, God favored Jacob over Esau not by some arbitrary, random choice, but because Jacob responded to God’s grace and Esau did not. The best way to understand this passage then, is to say that God chose Jacob and rejected Esau. He favored Jacob. He loved the fact that Jacob chose to follow Him and bring Him glory but hated the fact that Esau rejected Him and treated the things of God so cheaply.
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; 16 lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. 17 For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears. (Heb. 12:14-17)
How can I verify or confirm this interpretation? Well, Jesus says that unless we “hate” our mother, father, wife, and children we cannot be His disciples (see Luke 14:26). Yet, Jesus tells us to love one another and that to treat each other as we want to be treated sums up all the Law and the Prophets. Loving God and loving others are the greatest commandments. We are never to hate anyone. In fact, we are even to love our enemies because God does too!
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)
So, what does Jesus mean by “hate”? Simply, we are to love Jesus more than anyone else. We are to obey Him and follow Him, even if that means that family members or friends will leave, reject, mistreat, or not respect us because of our faith in Christ.
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matt. 10:34-40)
But that doesn’t mean Jesus is asking us to stop loving our families! It means to love Jesus first and put Him above everyone else. We can then conclude that God favored Jacob above Esau, as we should favor Jesus above all others.
So, does God love some and hate others? No. He loves everyone. But He favors those who love Him and follow Him and even calls them His own children!
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. (1 John 3:2)
Those that do not know God and have rejected Him are not favored by Him, but if they repent and believe in Christ and follow Him as their Lord and Savior, they too can become favored. Praise God for His kindness!
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23)